When it comes to the NFL postseason, expect the unexpected. Especially when the Kansas City Chiefs are involved.
While Kansas City’s considered a strong favorite on Saturday against the Tennessee Titans, it’s still most of the same team that blew a 38-10 third quarter playoff lead in 2014, lost a playoff game in 2017 without allowing a touchdown and lost a home game to the same Titans team just 13 months ago.
A win is far from guaranteed.
The Titans enter Arrowhead Stadium with some history on their side, holding a surprising 2-0 record against Andy Reid in Kansas City.
Upsets both times show Tennessee’s ability to rise to the occasion and play to the level of competition with a 14-10 record against teams with winning records under head coach Mike Mularkey.
Entering the game with very different momentum, the Chiefs are winners of four in a row but Tennessee is a different story, dropping three of their last four. Losses to the Cardinals and 49ers show the team’s inconsistencies, but a close loss to the Rams and defensive showcase win against the Jaguars also show the potential.
Tight end Travis Kelce has three times as many 100-yard receiving games than any other tight end in the NFL over the last 24 weeks, providing quite a task for the Titans defense. Wesley Woodyard and Kevin Byard will likely draw the assignment, the team’s two leading tacklers, and keep an eye on potential big plays from Byard whose eight interceptions ties the league high.
On the outside, wide receiver Tyreek Hill has 13 touchdowns in his last 19 games, to go along with a season average of 79 yards per game, sixth most in the NFL. While Mularkey is unsure if top corner Adoree Jackson will shadow Hill, the expectation is that the all-purpose star will see a lot of the Titans speedster. One of a few players that might hang with the likes of Hill, Jackson has played the second most snaps in the NFL and could wear down as the game goes on.
NFL rushing leader Kareem Hunt has his hands full against the NFL’s fourth-best run defense, yardage wise, powered by a front seven that only allowed one 100-yard rusher all season, Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams. The Titans have allowed just three rushes of more than 20 yards, while Hunt leads the league with 12 such runs of his own. Tennessee’s pass rush also ranks fifth in the NFL with 43 sacks this season.
Big plays will be a key area to watch for as the Chiefs are dependent on them and the Titans don’t allow many.
Tennessee’s defense has allowed the fewest 20 yards or more plays in the NFL, while Kansas City’s offense has the fifth most. Hill has nine catches of 40 or more yards, four touchdowns of 60 or more yards and Kelce has more 20 or more yard catches than any other tight end and the seventh most of any player.
On the other side of the ball, Kansas City will have to stop the Titans rushing attack if they want to advance.
Tennessee is 6-0 this season when rushing for at least 100 yards, with only three more wins when not. Running back Derrick Henry will likely start and the Titans are 11-0 when the Alabama alum gets more than 11 carries, compared to 7-12 when he doesn’t. Fellow running back Demarco Murray is questionable for the game, while quarterback Marcus Mariota has struggled outside of Nashville with 11 of 15 interceptions coming on the road.
A lot will ride on the Titans offensive line, a unit near the top of the league in 2016, but one that has taken a step back without guard Chance Warmack.
The Chiefs’ run defense has not been great but with the Titans’ line so inconsistent, it’s not a sure thing that Henry has a field day. That also falls partly on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie, or public enemy number one in Nashville, who has helmed an offense averaging just 21 points a game and 314 total yards per game.
Neither team has a dramatic edge in playoff experience, as even though the Titans only have 18 players with playoff history, most of the Chiefs’ players only have one win on their playoff ledger. Erik Walden and Logan Ryan will be key leaders for the Titans, both with double-digit playoff appearances and a Super Bowl ring.
Kansas City has won 18 of the team’s last 22 regular season home games but the playoffs have always been a different story, with just two home postseason wins in 57 years of existence. They’ll need to take care of Tennessee deficiencies and utilize their own offensive weapons and potential mismatches to finally send the Arrowhead faithful home happy in the postseason.
Kickoff is set for Saturday at 3:35 p.m. central time.
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